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One of the biggest challenges facing ag marketers is how to create demand for their products at the end-user level while keeping their channel partners engaged and supportive. Most depend on channel support. But many are looking for means to supplement the overall marketing and sales efforts throughout the channel.

AgCall CEO, Gord Butcher says, "Word of Mouth (WOM) can accomplish the objective of demand creation at the end-user level by creating a powerful ripple effect throughout the entire channel. Word of Mouth strategies are an opportunity for manufacturers to supercharge their marketing and sales efforts throughout the channel and down to the end-user."

Beck Ag Com, Inc. partner, Vince Richmond explains, "Ag retailers who are sharp marketers understand how grower-to-grower programs accelerate the sales process, support the retailer sales effort and ultimately create more positive brand experiences." He adds this approach helps growers set realistic expectations of product performance up front and creates a much higher level of customer satisfaction.


"At the end of the day, when manufacturers are able to set realistic expectations with their customers, they reap the rewards of greater product satisfaction, reuse and higher customer retention. It adds credibility to their message," says Richmond.

Beck Ag and AgCall each have vast experience working in channel marketing situations. In an example of an innovative program that generated substantial return, Beck Ag developed a multi-year strategy to help BASF maximize sales and grower satisfaction in the sunflower market. Beck Ag partner, Margaret Oldham says the numbers speak volumes when it comes to explaining the strength offered the entire channel through word of mouth marketing strategies. "The bottom line for BASF included a 5:1 ROI in 2004. In addition, because of the program, a 12.5:1 ROI was expected from incremental sales generated over the 2004-2005 growing season."

Additional results of the BASF campaign showed the powerful "ripple effect" of the channel initiative as 57 percent of the participants indicated they discussed the Clearfield system with other producers and seed salesman involved in sunflower production as a result of the peer-to-peer call

Oldham says, "There is consistent and measurable proof that WOM strategies that target all "customer" levels in a segment or channel have positive impact." Citing extensive work with Elanco Animal Health, Oldham reports, "We've developed specific WOM strategies to engage all levels of customers in the swine industry in educational discussions about how to best use Elanco products. This typically involves veterinarians, nutritionists and producers in a peer-influence and expert advocacy AgTelePanel (ATP) format."

She says in 2004, a Paylean word of mouth marketing initiative accomplished Elanco's objective of increasing duration and use of Paylean with all audiences. "Beck Ag's Paylean initiative influenced feed programs for more than 50 million pigs represented by the ATP participants who shared specific information while engaged on the telephone in the ATP. Most participants changed their Paylean use after participating in the ATP. As a result they increased the duration of product use by several days."


Oldham also stresses, "The ripple effect from the ATP was clearly evident. WOM continues to impact the marketplace long after the formal interaction. Ninety-six percent of the nutritionists participating discussed the program with an average of 13 people each. Ninety-one percent of participating vets discussed the program with 9 others and 68 percent of producers shared ATP experiences with an average of 7 other people.

Richmond says, "Both the BASF and Elanco examples epitomize the power of the ripple that an effective word of mouth marketing strategy can create throughout the entire channel."

However, he adds, this unique "supercharge effect" goes far beyond traditional agriculture crop inputs. "Equipment markets, construction entities, information technology businesses, pharmaceuticals and others are effectively using WOM in channel marketing strategies. The reason is that WOM marketing allows marketers to supplement their overall marketing and sales efforts throughout the channel."

Kathleen Erickson is president of Erickson Communications and Consulting, Clarks Hill, IN.

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